What do you get when an unstoppable ego meets an immovable bridge? Such a question is playing out on the waterways of Rotterdam, the maritime capital of Europe.
The ego you’re familiar with, since there’s a good chance a cardboard box culled from one of his cavernous warehouses is arriving soon to your doorstep: Sir Optimus Prime, née Jeff Bezos, second-richest man in the world, according to Forbes. The bridge … maybe not so much. De Hef (which translates from Dutch to “the Lift”), aka the Koningshaven Bridge, was originally built in 1927 as the first of its kind in Western Europe. With its counterweights pulled to its highest point, it has a lofty clearance of 131 feet. That’s important, because when it’s completed sometime this year, the schooner Bezos commissioned Oceanco to build—codename Y721, or a cipher for 127 meters (416 feet)—will not be able to clear the bridge thanks to three impossibly high masts that, for some reason or another, cannot be installed elsewhere.
When Oceanco proposed to dismantle part of De Hef to allow the vessel passage, all hell broke loose.
It appears Rotterdammers especially have a bone to pick with Mr. Amazon. Should De Hef be de-stroyed, a retaliation is already in the works. (Note to self: Never talk smack about a Dutch bridge.) One resident, Pablo Strörmann, went so far as to create a Facebook event, titled “Throwing eggs at superyacht Jeff Bezos.” So far, 12,000 users have expressed interest in pelting what will be the world’s largest sailing yacht—a big ol’ shiny target—with more than 3,000 planning on attending. If each buys a dozen, that’s 36,000 projectiles. “Rotterdam was built from the rubble by the people of Rotterdam, and we don’t just take that apart for the phallus symbol of a megalomaniac billionaire,” the description of the event reads, per Google translate. “Not without a fight!” (Best thing I’ve ever translated? You bet your aars.)
This is the crux of what I’ve taken to calling Bridgegate—which isn’t so bad as far as uninspired Watergate references go, because in the simplest of terms that’s literally what it is. The city’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, is partially to thank for that. At one point, it appeared Bezos would actually eat the cost of dismantling said bridge, which I imagine for him is like tipping the movers. But it looks as if that’s been taken off the table, so now we're left with an old-fashioned standoff. Straddling the Nieuwe Maas river—which not only flows through some of the most densely populated and developed areas in the Netherlands, but also is one of the main arteries for Dutch-built ships of all shapes and sizes bound for the North Sea and beyond—the bridge has been through a lot. It survived bombardments from Nazi Luftwaffe aircraft during WWII, was decommissioned in 1994, underwent a restoration in 2017 and was finally declared a national monument.
But a restoration alone couldn’t prepare it for its next calling: as a bulwark against the perceived indifference and flippancy of the founder of Amazon. If you listen, even now, you can hear its steel trusses groaning under the weight of such monumental pressure. Depending on what you think of Bezos, you might be groaning after reading this too.
That’s because whatever you think of him—self-made entrepreneur, egomaniacal genius, socially awkward nerd, modern day job creator, exploitative tycoon, space cowboy, singular visionary, future overlord of humankind—you would be right. In fact, his mere existence is a Litmus test for how you interpret life as we know it in the 21st century.
And though I’m far from a Bezos apologist (I studied literature and drive a Honda Civic), and swore I wouldn’t speak ill of Dutch bridges, I can’t get past two obvious caveats, one concerning aesthetics, the other concerning commerce. First off, let me get this out of the way. Hand up, to an outsider, De Hef—unlike its stone cousins littered around Europe—isn’t exactly beautiful. And if Y721 continues to receive such scathingly poor press that Bezos ultimately abandons the project, Oceanco, which employs at least 300 people caught in the crosshairs through no fault of their own, will assuredly suffer the consequences. That doesn’t seem fair.
But that’s all water under the, ahem, bridge. As part of the proposal, after dismantling the platform, work crews would painstakingly put it back together again like the Ship of Theseus. For some reason this isn’t satisfactory to Rotterdammers, or seemingly the rest of the world. Let’s stop and consider this for a second.
The question we’re left to ponder is a just one. If it was anyone other than Bezos, would we even know of the bridge’s existence? And, more to the point, would anyone even care? Wait a second—did I just wrap this up by coming to Bezos’ defense? That’s a new low, even for me. Screw it, I’m running to the store to buy some eggs.